Justin Ruggiano, J.P. Howell Added to Rays; Dan Johnson, Rob Delaney Get the Boot

From the team press release:

The Tampa Bay Rays have reinstated left-handed pitcher J.P. Howell from the 15-day disabled list. In addition, outfielder Justin Ruggiano was selected from Triple-A Durham. To make room on the roster, right-handed pitcher Rob Delaney was optioned to Durham and infielder Dan Johnson was designated for assignment.    

Rob Delaney getting sent down for J.P. Howell is no surprise, as someone had to go from the 'pen and he hasn't impressed as much as Brandon Gomes has. Howell will give the Rays another high-leverage reliever (assuming he's still the same pitcher he was a year and a half ago), and his presence will allow Maddon to use Cesar Ramos in more of a traditional left-handed specialist role. This move optimizes and solidifies the Rays' bullpen, and I'm pretty excited to see Howell in action again. The Rays will likely take it easy with him to begin with, but it still feels really good to have him back in the 'pen.

As for the Dan Johnson / Justin Ruggiano swap....I'm not a fan, but possibly not for the reason you'd expect.

It doesn't have to do with choosing Kotchman over Johnson; I've reconciled myself with Casey Kotchman at this point, and I'll freely admit that he's given the Rays much more production this season and looked much better at the plate than Johnson. He's playing like a rejuvenated player and heck, as much as I think he's going to regress going forward, the Rays are better served right now playing him instead of Johnson. And considering that Felipe Lopez slipped through waivers earlier this year, my guess is that Dan Johnson will make it through too and the Rays can let him work out his issues in Triple-A. I don't want to say goodbye to the Great Pumpkin yet, so I'm not going to say it until we know for sure where he lands.

But....Justin Ruggiano? Really? If we're going to call up another outfielder, why not make it Brandon Guyer or Desmond Jennings? They've both been playing exceptionally well this season, and while I know the Rays want to manipulate service time to make sure neither player is a Super Two, there's at least a decent chance that rule is done away with this off season in the CBA negotiations. If anything, I don't think the Rays need to worry about Guyer being a Super Two, and I'd much prefer having him up instead of Ruggs.

To look on the bright side, Justin Ruggiano has been impressive this season down in Triple-A. He's walking at his highest rate since 2006 (10%) and has reduced his strikeout rate to an all-time low (23%), and he's been blistering the ball (6 HRs, .398 wOBA). He's 29 years old and no longer a prospect, but you never know what can happen: maybe Ruggs has legitimately improved himself recently and become a much better player. It's probably worthwhile that the Rays give him a chance at least, and you could certainly ask for worse stop-gags.

But I think that's what frustrates me most about the move: Ruggiano is a stop-gag solution. He's not a solution to the Rays' offensive woes, and he's likely just a moderate upgrade to our bench. The Rays are in first place right now, but the Yankees and Red Sox are both within two games of them; do we really think we can hold with those clubs if we keep running out daily lineups that feature Sam Fuld, Elliot Johnson, and Justin Ruggiano? We've gotten lucky so far with the hot streaks from Fuld and Kotchman, but how long can we trust to luck to keep our offense afloat? The Rays need a potential everyday outfielder like Jennings or Guyer out there, someone who can turn Sam Fuld back into a fourth outfielder, and I don't think Justin Ruggiano is that player.

As with every move the Rays have done this season, there are both reasons to like the move and reasons to dislike it. But if nothing else, I think this makes one thing clear: the Rays are more concerned with 2012 (and beyond) than they are with 2011. Can I blame them? No, not at all - it's a good strategy. It just means we're going to have to continue to watch a frustrating lineup for at least another month.

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